Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dress for Success

Growing up, my mother always stressed the importance of dressing well for school. There are no childhood pictures of me dressed in mismatched clothing with mussed hair. Instead, I'm usually perfectly put together in the latest fashions (which in some cases means truly unfortunate 80's and 90's ensembles that include side ponytails and acid washed jean skirts) that have been miniaturized into children's clothing.

In 6th grade, after forming a friendship with the classroom tomboy, I briefly engaged in schleppy dressing and much to my mother's chagrin, regularly wore Adidas shower shoes, grungy flannel shirts and baggy jeans to school. But upon entering Junior High, I began seeking out my mother's expert fashion advice, and returned to the land of pulled together looks. Even in college, I was never one of those girls who wore oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants to class. I just could not do it.

In college, professors always emphasized how important it was to dress well at work and that the wardrobe so embraced by college students across the country was something that would never be accepted in the workforce. This, apparently, was going to be the biggest shock to our post-collegiate systems.

To them I say "Ha!"

Everyday seems to bring a more egregious fashion horror to my attention. And mind you, now that I'm not getting free clothes from my parents, I'm no longer a huge fashion plate and I can more often than not be spotted wearing something as uninspired as a basic Gap outfit, but the things I see my co-workers wearing are awful.

Today, for example, was a nice summer day. And because there's no real dress code to speak of, many people were wearing shorts and flip flops. Middle aged men were decked out in their favorite Hawaiian print shirt and women layered tank tops in an attempt to balance workplace modesty with the fact that the temperature had finally hit the mid 80's. But then there were...the others. I haven't quite worked out what these people do for a living, but I'm almost certain it must be something that doesn't require contact with people. I also know that they're probably worth 2-3x time as much as I am, but the clothes they wear would never give anyone that impression.

Often, these men are rocking shoulder to mid-back length locks, and from behind, you'd simply think they were an ill-dressed woman. The color these men wear is almost always black, including a black t-shirt with some sort of self-effacing joke, or better yet, an in-joke that relates to their job. The t-shirts are the faded black-grey color that comes from washing them improperly, and are usually worn with khaki cargo pants that give the appearance of never having been washed. Their shoes are black New Balance, the sort that are commonly sported by Burger King workers and other members of the service industry, and are paired with crew socks that (are accidently) the same color as their shirt. The look is capped off with 3 day old facial hair and a greasy sheen over pale, pale skin, the sort that is produced after months spent indoors with the shades drawn playing WoW or some other RPG while cramming their gob with whatever was available in the vending machine (And you know what? I'm almost as nerdy as they are because I just used acronyms. Go me.).

As I said before, I cannot really judge these people because they're undoubtedly smarter and more wealthy than I am. And I know I wear unflattering clothing; everyone makes mistakes. But day after day, these men trudge through the hallways and between cubicles, go into conference rooms (presumably to attend meetings, hopefully not full of similarly ill-dressed men), and it defies logic that these people are actually gainfully employed. My most recent observation is that probably 70% of the men I've observed are married.

Which leads me to this point: As a woman, I know I could never a) be employed while dressing like that or b) secure a man wearing similar clothing. It's a sad, sad double standard that finds men able to dress that way when the women I work with, while again are not necessarily fashion plates, all appear to have put some effort into their clothing selections. Or at the very minimum, have you know, showered sometime recently.

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